How to Harvest and Dry Sage for Smudging

Michael and Rose took a trip to the beautiful countryside to show us how to harvest and dry prairie sage. The day was hot, but luckily the prairie breezes kept us cool (although these gentle winds did occasionally strengthen and become a little noisy during our shoot).

"We want everyone to know that processing sage is just as important to us as selling it - we want everything done in the right way, we want everything done properly so that when people use this sage for their most sacred, interpersonal uses, they know it started out in a good way."- Rose Kern

Sage smudging has been practiced for centuries by various cultures around the world as a spiritual practice to cleanse the energy of a space or person. It involves burning dried sage leaves or sticks and allowing the smoke to purify and reset the environment's energy.

Type of sage to look for:

We use the Man Sage with wide leaves. This is an artemisia species - Artemisia ludoviciana - and it's one of about 200 species in this country. This is the kind of sage that people in the Northern Plains area use and expect to purchase when they come into the store.

The Woman Sage (Salvia apiana) is much smaller, shorter, way more frondy, and slightly softer. There is also a subspecies of Man Sage, but the leaves are thinner. It has a sharper smell and the whole plant looks thinner and sharper.

You can tell if it's Man Sage by looking at the leaves. The leaves of this plant will be much wider and stay on the stem as they dry. The subspecies, on the other hand, will lose its leaves during the drying process (the leaves are still usable). This also tends to have a more acrid aroma, whereas the Man Sage is a little more sweet smelling.

Some Indian people call Man Sage "Hill Sage" because they say it tends to grow where it's a little hillier.

Make an offering:

It's a plant that you should thank when you're gathering it. The best thing to do is take a little tobacco and just offer it up because you're asking for the use of this plant in a good way. It's a good thing to do whenever you gather anything.

When to harvest sage:

We like to harvest sage before it's seeded out (it usually won't seed out until way into July).

How to harvest sage:

Please NEVER pull the sage up by the root, and don't harvest the whole patch… just take some, maybe what you think is the most mature (these will likely be the tallest stems).

Get down low on the stem and just cut it off using some heavy scissors or pruning shears.

What we're doing is we're wildcrafting, and we're just trying to do it sustainably. We want the plant to come back year after year, as it has done for thousands of years. This is a plant from this country (it wasn't brought here or imported here) and has been used by the People for thousands and thousands of years.

Gathering it up:

It's best to lay it all in the same direction (all the stems and all the tops together). This is important for not only the gathering but also the drying process… it's much easier if the smudge sticks are placed the same way.

Make sure your sage bundles are clean! You should also remove any grass or other plants from your bundle.

How to dry sage leaves:

Depending on the weather, the drying period for sage will be about one week.

First, you have to find a dry place to lay it out. For instance, if you lay it on the ground, it'll soak up moisture…so you want to look for an area that's cool and dry.

The best way to dry it is to gather it together in a bundle, tie it together, and hang it in your garage or another place so it will air dry evenly. If you can only place it outside, just remember to bring it inside or cover it at night so it doesn't get any dew on it.

You want to aim for a "crackly" dry bundle of sage (it should crackle when gently squeezed).

Please DO NOT dry your sage using artificial heat, like in an oven, food dehydrator or microwave - this gives it a toasty odor and deteriorates the plant because it takes too much of the essential oil out of it.

Some recommendations:

  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants so you don't get scratched up by the long grasses and stems.
  • Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Watch out for snakes and spiders!
  • If you're going to collect on private property or a state park, ask for permission first. In some districts, you may just need to purchase a cutting or wildcrafting permit (usually a small fee).

Whether you're smudging for spiritual or practical reasons, harvesting and drying sage can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience.

By following the steps outlined in this article, you can harvest and dry your sage for smudging. This allows you to experience the benefits of this ancient ritual and create a more peaceful and grounded environment.